Aboriginal girls at risk of falling through the cracks at school

Aboriginal girls are at risk of falling further behind at school than their male peers because sport is too often used as the tool to attract and encourage school participation among indigenous children, a new report warns.

The report from the national education charity The Smith Family warns that while sport is an effective approach for Aboriginal boys, it usually fails with girls.

The charity's chief executive, Lisa O'Brien, said Australia was at risk of neglecting the education needs of young Aboriginal women unless there were more school engagement programs offering a wide range of recreational and personal development opportunities for indigenous girls.

Dr O'Brien said young Aboriginal women were at significant risk of poor school attendance or of dropping out of school because they often needed to care for siblings, parents and other family members, and they were also more likely than other Australian females to start a family early.

''In the recent federal budget, the government announced $13.4 million over four years for 3000 additional places for Aboriginal boys to participate in an already established national program which uses sport and recreation to improve health, education, training and employment outcomes among Aboriginal young people,'' Dr O'Brien said.

''That's great, but where are Aboriginal young women in this picture and why aren't we doing more to assist them?''

The report's findings are based on an independent evaluation of an Alice Springs program, Girls at the Centre, that has been boosting the school attendance of Aboriginal girls.

The Smith Family has operated Girls at the Centre in partnership with Centralian Middle School since 2008.

The program motivates and supports girls from years 7 to 9 to stay at school and boosts their results by providing girls with dedicated ''coaches'' and other support, such as after-school activities ranging from jewellery making to rock climbing, access to mentors and regular excursions.

''As a result, the average attendance rates for Girls at the Centre participants are consistently higher than their peers,'' Dr O'Brien said.

''For example, after completing first term in 2013, the average attendance rate for Girls at the Centre participants was 75 per cent, 12 percentage points higher than the average attendance rate for all Aboriginal girls at the school, which is 63 per cent.''

The results do not surprise year 12 indigenous student Freeda Roberts, who moved from her home in South West Rocks last year to boarding school at St Scholastica's in Glebe.

It was a huge step but the teenager has thrived after being encouraged to take on leadership roles at the school to boost her self-esteem.

''Leadership roles build girls' confidence and gives them a reason and a purpose to stay at school,'' Freeda,17, said.

''Back home I had very little confidence ... I had to get to a place where I could increase my grades and ever since I have come to St Scholastica's my grades have improved and it's not because of me but because of the bond and support we get from the teachers.''

Freeda is on a scholarship at the girls' Catholic college as part of The Smith Family's indigenous youth leadership program, which is funded by the federal government to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from remote areas the opportunity to attend a high performing public or private secondary school.

The story Aboriginal girls at risk of falling through the cracks at school first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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